Rights in Russia interview – with Tanya Lokshina, associate director at Human Rights Watch

This month Mary Page talks with Tanya Lokshina, associate director for Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division. Formerly based in Moscow, she left Russia in spring 2022, following on the full scale invasion of Ukraine.

A journalist by training, Tanya’s early work in Russia was with the Moscow Helsinki Group and a human rights think-tank Demos. She joined Human Rights Watch in 2008 and has since authored numerous major reports on human rights in Russia, including on abuses in the North Caucasus, the 2008 armed conflict in Georgia, the ongoing crackdown on critics of the government, the situation in Belarus and violations of international humanitarian law during the armed conflicts in eastern Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2006 Lokshina was given the Andrei Sakharov Award, “Journalism as an Act of Conscience.

The interview was recorded on 22 February 2024

Mary’s questions:

  • You began your career as a journalist.  How did you come to focus on human rights abuses?
  • You worked for many years at the Moscow Helsinki Group. How do you explain the authorities’ decision to close it down in 2022? Was the main reason the regime’s plan for war? Or was it an attempt to return to the Soviet Union? Or something else?
  • How did public opinion react to the closing down of the Moscow Helsinki Group – and also other leading human rights groups such as Memorial and the Sakharov Centre?
  • You recently wrote an article, ‘The Price of Defiance in Russia,’ about the case of human rights defender Oleg Orlov who is on trial for criticising Russia’s war against Ukraine. Could you summarise the charges against him – and what you think is the most likely outcome?
  • Given this case of Oleg Orlov, is it at all possible for human rights activists to continue their work in Russia?
  • Many Russian human rights advocates have now left the country. To what extent are they able to maintain contact with one another? Do they tend to each go their own way or do they form a distinct community in exile?
  • What would you say has been the impact of Russia’s expulsion from the Council of Europe and from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights?
  • Are the UN human rights mechanisms still accessible and helpful to rights advocates both inside and outside Russia?
  • For 16 years now you have been working with Human Rights Watch, 14 of them from Moscow. Over the years, have you altered your approach to monitoring human rights abuses in any way?
  • Finally, I would like to ask you about the news that has been dominating headlines all over the world this past week: the death of Aleksei Navalny. Could you share your thoughts with us on what exactly happened, why did it happen, and what will be the consequences for Russia?

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